February 6-10, 2019
By Bruce Lamott
Vienna has been called many things, “The Imperial City,” “The City of Dreams,” “Waltz Capital of the World,” but rarely, if ever, “The Pivot.” Situated centrally in the heart of Europe on the North-South axis from Amsterdam to Naples and East-West from Paris to Prague, its musical significance was approaching its zenith just as its political significance plunging to its nadir in 1800. Center of the conglomeration of countries, city-states, and dioceses known as the Holy Roman Empire (in Voltaire’s famous opinion, none of the above) and ruled from Vienna by the dynasties of Habsburg and Habsburg-Lorraine, the Empire was dissolved by Napoleon in 1808. However, following his surrender in May 1814, the diplomats and nobility of Europe gathered in Vienna a year later to sort out the territorial havoc he caused in what is known as the “Congress of Vienna.”
So Vienna certainly has claim to be a hubcap, but a pivot? Yes, because it is here that the prevailing style of music gradually pivoted from the galant propriety of the Classic Period–sometimes called the Viennese Classical Style—of Mozart and Haydn to the unabashed personal expression and drama of Romanticism of Schubert and late Beethoven. And like a pivot—as opposed to a turnstyle—these changes were gradual and fluctuating, making the distinction of styles rather fuzzy until 1820 or so.
Unlike the holy trinity of Classicism—Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven—both Schubert and Clement were actual native Viennese. There was personal contact between Haydn and Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, and Beethoven and Clement, but more important was the cross-pollination of musical influences taking place in Vienna’s schools, concert halls, and salons. Though the presence of Beethoven looms large over Schubert’s music, there is only circumstantial evidence to suggest that they ever met. Young Schubert played early Beethoven symphonies in his school orchestra, and was keenly aware of Beethoven’s towering presence. “I really hope to be able to make something of myself, but who can do anything now after Beethoven?,” he complained.
Mozart, Overture to The Marriage of Figaro
Receiving their parts only two days before the opening of Le Nozze di Figaro at Vienna’s court theater on May 1, 1786, Mozart’s orchestra must have been dumbstruck by the nonstop profusion of sixteenth notes that blackened their pages. The first of the “big three” operas composed in collaboration with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte (the other two were Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte) the Figaro overture is the only one that does not explicitly preview themes to be heard in the opera. Rather it bubbles up hesitantly before rushing headlong into activity that doesn’t stop until the final cadence. Cascading scales, vigorous repeated notes, mounting crescendos, occasional fanfares, and sharp accents ramp up energy which is unrelieved by any conventionally lyrical “second theme.” Since he left the overture until last, Mozart certainly had the themes of the opera in his head and could easily—even more easily—employed them. But since the opera itself opens in medias res, with the amorous advances of a philandering Count having already been rebuffed at least once by his wife’s wily maid, perhaps we should think of this overture as a depiction of the frenetic activities of the characters taking place before the curtain rises.
Clement, Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major
In a career that echoes the early life of Mozart, Franz Clement was recognized as a child prodigy and learned the violin from his stage-promoting father. Little Franz gave his first public concert at age seven and was whisked away on a three-year concert tour of South Germany, Belgium, and England, where he stayed for two years. The return trip included Amsterdam, The Hague, Frankfurt, and Prague. All the while, he compiled a 415-page autograph album of the signatures and epigraphs of many of the pre-eminent musicians of Europe, including Joseph Haydn, who also conducted a benefit concert for young Franz.
At the age of nineteen, Clement joined the Imperial National Theater as soloist and assistant to the conductor, Mozart’s protégé, Süssmayr. The young violinist was taken into the Emperor’s chamber music ensemble and soon became co-director of the orchestra at the new Theater an der Wien, built by Emanuel Schikaneder with the profits from Mozart’s Magic Flute. He became the”leader” of several notable orchestras, conducting and playing from his first violin stand.
Clement’s name is best-known and inextricably linked with Beethoven, from whom he commissioned the composer’s only violin concerto, which he premiered on December 23, 1806. Beethoven noted on the manuscript, Concerto par Clemenza pour Clement (Concerto with compassion, for Clement). However, the year before, Clement played his own Violin Concerto in D Major at the Theater an der Wien on April 7, 1805, on the same bill as the first public performance of Beethoven’s Third Symphony (Eroica), conducted by the composer. Both works are in the same key, the same length, and use the same instrumentation; one might ask who was influencing whom?
Like Beethoven’s violin concerto, Clement’s was not particularly well-received, but although Beethoven’s work was posthumously resurrected by Joseph Joachim in 1844 to become one of the most popular violin concertos in the repertoire, Clement had to wait until 2008 for Rachel Barton Pine to champion his work with its first recording. In her words, “His violin concerto certainly has a number of virtuosic elements, but it’s clearly written as music for the sake of music, not showing off for the sake of showing off…It can definitely stand on its own two feet. Of course it’s not a Beethoven, but I would say that it’s every bit as good as everything else from the time that also wasn’t Beethoven.”
Clement was the antithesis of his contemporary, the Italian Niccolò Paganini, who was known for his showmanship, cliff-hanging virtuosity, and mysterious persona. By contrast, a contemporary critic called Clement’s playing “indescribably delicate, neat and elegant. It has an extremely delightful tenderness and cleanness that undoubtedly secures him a place among the most perfect violinists. At the same time, he has a wholly individual lightness, which makes it seem as if he merely toys with the most incredible difficulties, and a sureness that never deserts him for a moment, even in the most daring passages.”
This lightness is shown in the opening of the first movement, an elegant march which gradually accumulates woodwinds and brass before plunging into a period of agitated Sturm und Drang in minor, punctuated by trumpet fanfares. The second theme allays the drama with a return to major with a pastoral tune over a sustained bass drone. This musical chiaroscuro, juxtaposing major and minor, agitation and serenity, and strings and woodwinds against the brass continues throughout the movement. The solo violin enters modestly, and, as in Beethoven’s later concerto, shares the roles of soloist and accompaniment with the woodwinds. The cadenzas which conclude this and the third movement are Ms. Pine’s own creations.
The Adagio begins ominously, dispelled by the violin’s solo cadenza. The hymnlike theme which follows is reminiscent of the ceremonial music in Mozart’s Magic Flute. However, the expression here is more sentimental than solemn. A series of variations follows with increasing intensity and complexity for the soloist, while Clement’s transparent orchestration brings solo flute, oboe, and clarinet to the fore.
The theme of the Rondo finale has a touch of bucolic simplicity, with a lilting rhythm over another pastoral drone. This acts as a foil for the violinistic fireworks in the episode which followa. The return of the rondo theme gives a brief respite before the solo leads into an episode in minor which vacillates between the solo and orchestra. These violin solos are more delicate and fleeting than intense, corresponding to the composer’s personal style playing. Clement saves the full instrumentation for the final approach to the cadenza. If audiences turned away from violin concertos such as this—as well as Beethoven’s—in order to follow the virtuosic antics of Paganini, it was their loss. For Rachel Barton Pine to bring them again to our attention is our gain.
Schubert, Symphony No. 6 in C Major
By the time this symphony—the first of Schubert’s eight symphonies to be performed in public by a professional orchestra—was played on December 14, 1828, it was for his memorial. He had died, aged 31, in the previous month. He was caught between two “manias,” one which lionized Beethoven, who had died in Vienna the year before, and the other which was mad for Gioachino Rossini, whose Italian operas were creating a sensation in Vienna. The diminuitive and shy Schubert was known primarily as a composer of songs (Lieder) with piano accompaniment, mostly performed in bourgeois salons in evening musicales known as “Schubertiades.” Most of his symphonies were not published until the critical edition of his works in 1884-85.
The Sixth Symphony, sometimes known as the “Little C Major” to distinguish it from his final “Great C Major” symphony , was the best and last in a series of early works in the genre, and was written from October 1817 to February 1818. It is Íand while Italian ebullience pervades the piece, it is punctuated by the occasional pathos of Beethoven.
The opening Adagio already juxtaposes a grand gesture (Beethoven) with naive simplicity (Rossini), complemented by Schubert’s lifelong penchant of opposing major and minor versions of the same phrase. The following Allegretto opens with chortling winds alternating with the strings in short, repeated phrases. Schubert’s individuation of the woodwind tone colors emancipates them from their previous role to underscore the harmonies of the strings. The critics noticed. One wrote, “One might criticize the fact that the winds are all too richly provided for; by comparison the string instruments, in general, almost seem to play a subordinate role.” This “rich provision” of wind instruments, of course, is the one of the characteristics that Schubert knew had made Beethoven great.
The Andante is the most “Classical” of the movements, with a symmetrically phrased melody over a tik-tok accompaniment. However, the emphatic midsection disturbs the reverie like a Rossini thunderstorm, accumulating energy through a mounting crescendo. It is unsuccessful, however, in putting a martial uniform on the persistent tune.
The most “Beethovenian” movement by far is the Scherzo, the term itself adopted by Beethoven to replace Classical minuet, the courtly dance of the ancien régime. The breakneck repeated notes are punctuated by jagged accents where we least expect them, and, intended or not, there are also distinct echoes of the distinctive rhythm (. . . __) of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, composed ten years earlier. The middle section (still called Trio, a leftover from the minuet) starts with a rustic melody played over the grinding drone of a hurdy-gurdy. It gently morphs, however, into that latest of dance crazes that kept the Congress of Vienna partying until dawn: the waltz.
The final movement once again begins with cheerful Classic propriety: clearly delineated phrases decorated with ornamental turns are tossed between the winds and violins, ultimately becoming a melodic component in themselves. The startling entry of trumpets and timpani in martial fanfares set off a speedy galop and skittering of strings. The rest is as mock-serious as the finale of a Rossini comic opera (opera buffa), including the brief interlude of cuckoos introducingÍ the recapitulation. Is it going too far to suggest that Schubert was using this parade of toy soldiers to mock the Napoleonic threat now put to rest once and for all?